Barriers to Safety

Apr 2011

Cansco chief Mike Simpson tells Pipeline why well operators need a fundamental shift in securing well safety barrier assurance to bring well site safety to a higher level.

One year on from Macondo and the price is still being paid for the failure of the physical and procedural barriers – essential for ensuring the continued integrity of the well, the safety of well site personnel and the protection of the environment.

“Fortunately, the lessons learned from the disaster are providing the needed momentum for changing the industry for the better,” Mike Simpson, Chief Executive of Cansco Well Control.

The Blowout Preventer (BOP) is actually only one part of the safety critical barrier placed on every well whilst work is being undertaken on the well.  When all else fails this safety barrier is depended upon to work.  With lives at risk it is understandable then that the equipment that makes up this safety barrier is deemed safety critical, in fact this equipment, the well control equipment package, is top to the list when it comes to its criticality in protecting people, assets and the environment.

“What has been realised in recent times is that the way well services have typically been contracted can itself lead to the creation of barriers that prevent safety critical equipment such as the well control package from being given the priority of care and attention it demands,” the well control expert said.

In standard contract arrangements, the safety barrier defines the physical interface point between the well operator’s responsibility and the contractor’s responsibility, where typically the well contractor provides the safety barrier to place on the operators casing or well head.

“It is this responsibility interface point that is now being re-considered” Simpson told Pipeline.

The safety barrier, or well control package, by definition demands that its selection, care and maintenance have the highest order of priority.

“Standard industry contract models for well construction and maintenance are not effective in ensuring this priority is always met and the risk to personnel and the environment can be adversely affected as a result, he said.

The Dubai-based Cansco chief said the industry is now looking at whether the standard physical interface should be moved from the top of the casing and or well head to the top of the safety barrier.

“In doing so, the operator takes responsibility of supplying and maintaining the safety barrier equipment to better define accountability in managing well safety and the further reduce risk,” Simpson said.

“This kind of shift in responsibility requires either the operator to have the ability to provide the safety barrier, or a contractor who specializes in the provision of these safety barriers such as Cansco,” he added.

Even before the unfortunate events in April 2010 Cansco had identified that operators needed an option for the supply of safety barriers.

“We had already shifted our business to focus on providing well control packages with the highest levels of integrity built in,” Simpson said. “Our policies reflect the critical nature of the equipment we provide, we take our role in assisting well site teams manage risks to acceptable levels very seriously indeed.”

“This strategy has paid off as operators now have a choice when establishing well site responsibility interfaces,” he said.

With confidence and trust in the safety barrier the well activity specialist such as driller can focus more on their core competence of monitoring and interpreting feedback from the well to ensure proper corrective action is identified and established so that the well activity proceeds smoothly and safely.

“In a sense managing barriers to progress is a continuous daily activity at the well site, however the well control package is one safety barrier that must never be compromised,” Simpson said.

Pipeline Magazine – April 2011